lovehate: Wherefore Vaporware?

For those of who are unfamiliar with the "vaporware" moniker, think of some of the greatest technological rumors that you've heard as "up and coming" that have mysteriously disappeared quicker than my tolerance for Rickrolling. Whether it be hardware, software, games, platforms, portable media players or cellphones, tech media has been quick to jump on the fancy packaging and promises used to tempt venture capitalists and have end-users eyes glaze over like a Krispy Kreme confection in Coral Gables. I find that while there are plenty of lower-tier vaporware announcements these days (i.e. service packs for OSs and application updates) I'm missing the BIG pitch that's going to mess with my mind, make my jaw drop and wake up my dormant Utopian/Distopian meter.

I remember a hardware startup that preached translucent cube writable and bootable media with terrabytes of capacity that would hold your entire desktop and enable people to walk from terminal to terminal all over the world and wirelessly boot their entire home system. Kind of like meteorite computing over cloud computing. Sure, I know you can approximate some of these functions with a bootable USB drive, but it's far from elegant and certainly not without innumerable variables that could stop one cold.

Weren't there promises of seamless Voice User Interfaces by now.  Surely there must be an interest in the ability to speak to your computer in flowing sentences instead of clipped words and phrases. While we can purchase voice recognition software for certain tasks, and I realize that OSs have made some strides in allowing for next steps, was I the only one that thought we would easily be there by now as a standard and not a tenuous option?

And am I the only one who thought that after VR5, Lawnmower Man, and Harsh Realm that we were well on our way to fully-immersive Virtual Reality that smacked of something a little better than Vectrex? I'm not talking about a laboratory experimental unit costing several hundred thousand dollars, but an afforable, end-user product. I know the sci-fi geek in everyone is picturing an Enterprise holodeck right now, but I'd be satisfied with goggles and a platform. I guess until the porn or gaming industries take up the fight on VR we are screwed - or not.

And when is someone going to sell me robot that looks and acts human, obeys Asimov's three laws, and is bound and determined to take over the world for $199 with a four-year service contract? C'mon Steve Jobs, bring it on! Call it the iRobot, pay some residuals to the Asimov descendants and get Alan Parsons to remaster a jingle for you. Of course the iRobot would crash every time we tried to play Monkeyball, and once a month we'd have to restore it to default settings.

But even with all of my disappointment at the missing gadgets promised to me over the years, I would rather someone is at least dreaming and pushing the ambrosia-flavored envelope. Vaporware...

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lovehate: Standardized Education

"These days almost anything can be done to students and to schools, no matter how ill-considered, as long as it is done in the name of raising standards."
Alfie Kohn, What Does it Mean to Be Well-Educated?

With a focus on detail that has become incumbent on so many facets of public education, it is shocking how many terms get thrown around at the macro-level that cannot be defined without using the terms themselves. If a student defined the word metaphor, as "a collection of words that is metaphorical," an educator would raise the fallacy of such a definition. It is precisely this kind of logic that has pervaded public education over the past few years. "Student Achievement" has become a label that can be bandied, sold and put on the "spin" cycle to news outlets. Try to define "Student Achievement" as a movement without using the word "achievement" in the explanation and you'll realize how the word "achievement" has very little concrete value except for those who are gatekeepers of the standard.

Achievement is political fodder. It refers to variables that shift to meet political climates and news cycle expediency. Education, at its truest, is immeasurable. It is internalized and encompasses all aspects of a learner's life. Achievement is about high standardized test scores. Education is about being able to integrate knowledge into life. Achievement is about being labelled at-risk when considered below average. Education is personal, and not subject to the abilities or collective grade point scores of people who happen to be the same age. Achievement is about preparing voters for elections. Education is about preparing students for life.

Politicians have filtered down core beliefs like "all students can succeed" and "no child left behind", not as a starting point to investigate the real issues behind threats to education, but instead to insist that the solutions to all education problems rest in classrooms. The last thing a politician wants to admit, because of the enormous costs and undertakings involved, is that socio-economic status is traditionally the greatest determinant of student success.  If a government would ever admit that the core cause of education risk is not in schools, but in homes, they could truly begin to tackle some of the issues that plague our system.

By sliding the achievement scale to whatever suits current political needs, the governments have side-stepped inadequate funding issues that plague public education. Further, they have deflected the attention from improving social programs to improving test scores. Student Achievement as a collective statistic should never take the place of an individual student's education. When the second is sacrificed for the first, the political will induces tragedy. Any government can say students are smarter than five or ten years ago when standardized test scores can be manipulated by altering the test content or evaluation procedures.  Graduation rates can be manipulated at school or district level.  As long as achievement remains the goal over education…

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thinglets: Xenophon's Yellow Zebu

...and bosco,
conclusions done effortlessly,
forgave gerry haverbrook.
If john killed laura meyer next...
opens possibilities, questions, rhetoric...
satisfies the undertaker.
Variable with X, you zig-zagged.

Abstract banter caused dubious evaluations;
For good hindsight is joined keenly level.
Moreover new opinions permit quagmires,
releasing secret truths under vain, wretched,
x-rayed yammering zeal.

Albeit bromides cease doctoring equal force.
Generally height in kilometers lets medicine
Neutralize overt pain.
"Quacks regard said trauma 'under very wary xenophobia'",
yelled Zeus.

Actually, Brent created depreciated equality
from gently hammering ideology: jester knocking.
"Love me", Natasha offered profusely, quietly regretting
stating the ultimate vex.
Whenceupon Xerox yielded zilch.

Altered bent crumpled:
Dented Edsel fenders greased headstones.
I'll jump, kick, laugh, moreover
never offer punchlines, quizzical rationale.
So this ungodly virtue wakes Xenophon's yellow zebu.

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lovehate: The Ourobouros of Tech Journalism

In a world where so many people are looking for sustainable communities, perhaps the online archetype of tech journalism has taken self-perpetuation to new extremes. One insider leak or press release can lead to chain of reporting that spans from rumour to insider blog to Digg to a daily Rev3, CNET or G4 podcast. This, however, is only cycle number one. Within the next 24 hours the tech pundits get their chance to comment on the information via various weekly and high subscription podcasts.  Cycle Three begins when Rev3, CNET or G4 start picking up on the critiques of the big name podcast pundits and start reporting on the critiques, then taking those opinions back to the source company for comment thus starting the whole cyclorama again.

This construct, conveniently enough, works (maybe even better) without any real information. The sheer number of competing information outlets devoted to tech news forces even the slightest rumour to the surface - and if one outlet reports on it, the others do as well. The recent news cycles devoted to the supposed ailing state of Steve Jobs is a perfect example. No one (except Jobs) knew anything, yet hundred of media outlets were generating content with accompanying Munch-like portraits of Jobs for the purposes of furthering the story. Such speculation not only raised the spectre of Jobs' health but also the future of Apple and what would happen if he had to step down, and was there an heir apparent, and how would that impact the iPhone?

While this information flow does seem a bit cannibalistic in nature, it is certainly no different (in method) than mainstream media. The key shift lies in the fact that the online outlets (while nowhere near as singularly omnipresent as a television network) are seemingly endless. The other main difference is that the main consumers of tech journalism are generally knowledgable in the field. That's not to say that everyone's an IT professional or knows what "cloud computing" is, but how many people who watch mainstream news can really explain how the stock market works or why Fannie Mae is devastating the US economy. I may not know all of the ins, outs, and implications of what gets raised in a tech news blog or podcast, but I know enough to feel comfortable in saying I am engaged enough to keep coming back... which is more than I can say for most of the stuff on CNN, FOX NEWS, MSNBC, or CBC Newsworld.

If journalism, at its root, is simply telling a story, I'd rather hear a story I like a dozen times instead of one I don't care for even once.

Tech journalism...

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lovehate: iTunes and the 99 cent download

This is truly a love/hate topic for me.

There is a lot to love about the 99 cent/song download that has become industry standard.  To be honest, I loved the days of allofmp3's cent/mb downloads better, but we all knew that was shady even though technically legal.  The 99 cent download is a panacea to those who love pop radio and prefer the bits & bytes, song by song approach to music. With the click of a button and a quick sync command, you can be listening to that one hit wonder over and over again.  I suppose the single song approach to music purchases can be one way to expose people to a band or artist they would never shell out $10-15 for in buying a full CD.  The single song download has also redefined the release methodology for artists, or course this was forced on them by monopolistic music conglomerates who would sit on a band's recording for sometimes years at a time until they felt it was right for release: ask Fiona Apple whose Extraordinary Machine CD was shelved indefinitely because the execs couldn't find a "hit" on it. Now labels and artists promote direct-to-download releases between CDs in a seeming way to generate funds for recording and keeping artists on the map. From a pure market standpoint it's difficult to argue with the 99 cent download as there is no reason I should have to pay for music I don't want. There's many an artist who can, for one brief shining moment, find a glimpse of genius only to destroy that vision with the remainder tracks on a CD. For the advocates of choice and pop radio lovers everywhere, I love the 99 cent download.

On the other hand the iTunes revolution and the 99 cent download have contributed, in many ways, to the destruction of the artistic sensibility of music that existed, at least in some form until about five years ago.  While I grew up in a time of escapism into a gatefold LP cover that often stood on its own as visual art, I had, begrudgingly sacrificed that childhood fixation when compact discs became standard.  What I am less willing to sacrifice, however, is the idea that songs should be able to be so easily plucked from the entire collection that is an album or cd. Even to cite a relatively recent example, Radiohead's seminal OK Computer should not be listened to piecemeal.  Sure there were dozens of albums back in the 70s that explored conceptual themes that ranged beyond a single songs and, while many of them still had radio hits, the entire collection was always more satisfying: I find little pleasure in listening to Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb without the rest of The Wall surrounding it, or The Real Me without Quadrophenia, or anything from side two (remember sides) of The Beatles' Abbey Road without the songs accompanying them. Yeah I know, I'm dating myself, but just as it is deplorable to only pay for one scene of Hamlet or one-sixteenth of a Guernica print, there is something disingenuous of forcing artists to stop thinking of song collections as important because we only care about one song. For this reason, I hate the 99 cent download.

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thinglets: chicken

It's not often that I throw parties; I'm less than the consummate host. That said, when I take the time to send out invites and even create a lame Facebook event page, I have a certain expectation.  I go shopping - nothing fancy: pizza, pop, chips, beer, liquor, mix, veggie tray.  My plan is to take my digital projector out into the yard and do an outdoor film night. People seem to like it - kinda like a walk-in instead of a drive-in - lawnchairs a-plenty.

So when I look at the Weather Channel and see red flashing chromakey warning of thunderstorms, high winds, and 4cm hail, I start to wonder if my one annual bash has been cursed. I think that maybe I should've gone to church more often... well, even once. I ponder my relationship with Clotho, Lachesis and Antropos and what a wicked web they weave. I desperately search for some dusty 20-sided dice to see if I can make a saving throw against a wet backyard.

In the end, I guess I do what all impending party hosts do in my situation - I sacrifice a chicken in the middle of a pentagram in the laundry room and look up to the sky yelling "KHAN!"